starring Andrea Riseborough, Karim Saleh, Michael Landes, Sherine Reda
written and directed by Zeina Durra
by Walter Chaw In Zeina Durra's Luxor, Andrea Riseborough plays Hana, a British surgeon in Luxor, Egypt on a short leave between horrific assignments first in devastated Syria, then in Yemen. She's shell-shocked, it's clear. She spends her days wandering through the ancient city and allows herself one night to be picked up in her hotel's bar by an unctuous Yank throwing his money around. She lies in her hotel room for hours, trying to nap, and when she does sleep, she wakes to find herself another day closer to some sort of hell. Durra captures her listlessness as a feeling ineffable of being lost but never lost enough. Hana sits by herself at the far left end of a park bench, arms folded across her chest and a baseball cap pulled down low over her stunned expression. She visits a pyramid one day, just another tourist, and overhears a tour guide giving the yokels a taste of the gravid mysticism they're paying for. It all lands as empty for Hana. Hana, who doesn't have anything left inside after all this time bearing witness to the absence of God.
Luxor reminds in many ways of Lost in Translation, finding the same rhythms of dislocation and emotional unto existential disturbance. Hana is looking for her place in the world somewhere, we discover, she's spent time before in the company of a dashing archeologist (Karim Saleh), with whom she reunites, by chance, all these years later. They go on a walk and smoke a joint and talk about whether the other has had kids in the meantime. "I'd forgotten how pregnant this city is," she says. She means with the oppressive weight of history, and it's clear Hana's heavy with it, too. It's true that she hasn't had physical children, though Luxor is about how we're the parents of experience: ours and others' at the points at which we intersect with them. There's no plot to speak of in this film, just a series of walks and conversations, meetings and separations, beginnings and endings. If there's a goal, it's perhaps pilgrimage to the holy city of Abydos, housing the Temple of Seti I and a tribute to the God Osiris, the God of the Dead. Hana has been given midway through the film an amulet by another old friend, a little stone carving of the Goddess Isis suckling the infant Horace. Resurrection, you see. Rebirth.
I have this idea that resurrection is manual labour: a work of the hands and the heart and the mind most of all. Personal archeology. You excavate in the earth of your history to discover artifacts that present as clues to where you belong and maybe where you're going. Hana wonders if the supernatural is more present with us now because the world is coming apart. She idly wishes it was twenty years ago. Not, I think, because things were better then, but because twenty years ago, we were all a little less aware of how bad things are. She quotes Antonio Gramsci--"The old world is dying, the new world is struggling to be born. Now is the time of monsters"--although she can't remember his name. "I can't remember a lot lately," she says in a distant, soft voice, and Luxor is her process of coming back to herself. At the end, she's given a choice of whether to go forward into a literal Hell or forward to a place she's been but can't remember, valued for its proximity to the God of the underworld. Abydos, then, as Canaan. Durra tells us what she chooses but doesn't follow her there. We are, in that way, like Moses in this desert: in view of the promised land but denied entry into it. That's a beautiful, poignant metaphor for where we can get to if we're very wise and very lucky. Within sight, but outside. It's the best we can ever do. Programme: World Cinema Dramatic Competition